For Bollywood actor and ‘Bigg Boss 7’-first runner-up Tanishaa Mukerji, the festival of Durga Pujo brings back a plethora of memories while she continues to make newer, happier ones. These memories range from performing puja with her father, the Late Shomu Mukherjee, who was a well-known Indian director, and mother Tanuja, a veteran actor; to spending time with her sister actor Kajol, who she fondly calls Kads, and cousins Rani Mukerji, Samrat Mukerji and Sharbani Mukherjee. Oh, and the sumptuous bhogs that she has relished at her family’s Durga Pujo Pandal in Mumbai called the North Bombay Sarbojanin Durga Puja Samiti.
We got to know all this and more, during a candid chat with Tanishaa at her office in Mumbai. Edited excerpts below:
1. What does the festival of Durga Pujo mean to you?
You know that’s the beauty of India, I feel, when we all come together to worship, it’s part of our family, it’s part of our culture. It’s not just a religion or just a festival. It is ingrained into our culture, it is ingrained into our upbringing. So, it’s a lot of families coming together.
As we were children, we were brought up to wake up in the morning, go to the puja room, and perform puja with our mom, and grandmother. It is so intrinsic. When we go to the puja, it is not a festival for us, it’s definitely an emotion. An emotion of coming together with the entire family.
2. What excites you the most about Durga Pujo?
I will have to say, it’s the delicious bhog on Ashtami. Every year, there is the begun bhaja and payesh. I love payesh, I am just addicted to it. So the food is the most exciting part of the pujo and I look forward to it every year.
3. Do you have any favourite childhood memories of celebrating Durga Pujo?
Durga Pujo is deeply connected to me because it reminds me of my dad. I lost my dad 13 years ago and every pujo, I feel like he is there. One of my fondest memories, as a child, is that he would wait for us and he’d be like we all have to go give ‘anjali’, you all have to come, and we’d go together. And he would insist that my sister and I gave ‘anjali’ with him. He’d fast until then and the first thing he’d eat after it was done was the bhoger prasad.
At that time, when were children, we took it for granted. But now that I’ve lost him, it definitely does bring back those emotions in a big way.
4. Your family has one of the oldest Sarbojanin Durga Puja pandals in Mumbai. What does this legacy mean to you?
It means a lot because it is the family. It was my [paternal] grandmother who started this and she was particular that it will always be the family. The family will organise, and the family will serve and do everything. And it is amazing of all my uncles, especially my Debu kaka, to have taken it on and been so devoted. Also, for passing down this tradition to all us children and hopefully, to our children’s children.
It's amazing how all the cousins come together – from Samrat dada to Sharbani, Raja, Rani, to Kads [Kajol]. It’s like we bond at that time. You know we’ve got this history of doing this growing up, so it just means a lot that it has been the family and it will always be the family that takes it forward.
5. What’s your favourite element of Durga Puja, apart from the food?
I definitely look forward to the ‘sandhi puja’. It’s just exquisite the way it’s done. I look forward to the first day when the statue comes in and we go in front of ‘maa’ [Durga]. Looking at her there, in all her glory, just feels like she is actually there. It’s beautiful.
6. Have you ever visited Kolkata during Durga Puja?
No, I haven’t and I believe it’s hectic. But the more I am understanding Bengali culture and the more I am getting involved in our pujos, I think I would be quite excited to visit Kolkata and be a part of that. It’s a different kind of energy and I’d love to experience it.
7. Are there any family traditions around Puja that are close to your heart?
There’s one tradition that my mum has carried on for many years. This started when our pujo was small, and it used to be just the family. My mum had made my dad buy her a traditional ‘Bengali Dhakai' saree. After that, every year, she makes it a point to buy my sister and me these sarees for pujo and we will wear one at a point during the festival.
8. How would you describe your festive style?
I love sarees and it certainly comes out in my style and fashion statement. My festive style initially was like a mix, but now, the more I am understanding Bengali culture, I am becoming more and more Bong. I absolutely love the drape of the Bengali saree.
9. Are there any sarees from your mom or sister's collection that you have your eyes on?
I’ve actually been eyeing the jewellery. I love the jewellery I get to see during Durga pujo. Bappi [Lahiri] da’s wife has an amazing jewellery collection.
10. Any messages for your fans and followers?
My wish for my fans and followers for this festive season would be that during this festival we are worshipping Maa Durga and she represents Mother Earth. So please do not throw garbage, do not create waste, do not buy too much plastic, and if you do, then learn to recycle it. That is the need of the hour, and the environment is calling for our help. And when I say environment, it is humans.